I remember being thirteen years old and telling my best friend at the time that I wanted to marry a white man when I got older so my daughter didn’t come out as dark as me.
And she, being only a few shades lighter than me replied, “Girl, me too.”
Growing up a darker hue, I was totally unaware how much I truly hated myself. Looking back, I can’t exactly pinpoint when it all started, however, I’m not really surprised. No one should be. Just take a look at some of the quotes throughout my post. These aren’t things that I've made up, these are real-life statements from rappers, singers, actors, basketball players, and other influential people. Although I was blessed with parents who went above and beyond to tell me every day that I was beautiful, their words couldn’t compare to the words of celebrities and the cruel, ignorant comments of my peers.
It started early. I vaguely remember moving to a new school in the fifth grade and immediately making friends--and like any group of kids, we just as quickly fell out. It ended with name calling & other petty shit that only children can come up with.
One day after school, two of the girls were waiting for their bus and I just so happened to be in the next line over. Words were exchanged and it eventually ended with one of them calling me a darkie. I called one of them a fat pig (because homegirl was a porker) just as a teacher was passing by and was immediately sent to the principal’s office.
Now here’s the thing, while I understand that kids will be kids, to this day it makes absolutely no sense to me why I was the one who got in trouble. Could it be that the teacher heard me call her a name? Maybe. But I don’t think that a white 10-year old child should get away with calling a black child a racial epithet.
My mom was waiting for me when I got home & of course, she got into my ass. When I told her why I said what I said she stopped and looked at me, puzzled.
“But… you’re not even that dark. And even if you were, you are still beautiful.”
I started to envy those who were lighter than me because it seemed like that was the definition of beauty. Long, curly hair and beige skin were all that I saw on TV in the music videos and all the movies. The most popular girls in school were, you guessed it, light skin. Whether they were mixed or 100% black, the boys fawned over them. It took a huge toll on my self-esteem.
I did things to try to appear more exotic. In middle school, my mother finally let me straighten my hair. She was always against relaxers, so up until that point, I was rocking cornrows. It seemed like I got more attention once I dropped the braids. I was told I had “good, long hair”.
Still, my skin was too dark.
Well to me at least.
Around this time Ambi, a skin care company geared towards African Americans, picked up some popularity. I had come across their fade cream at the grocery store and instantly got excited. I had no idea that you could just change your skin color with a two-ounce bottle of cream… because, of course, you couldn't.
However, didn’t know that. Needless to say, I spent well over $100 dollars buying multiple bottles of what was supposed to this magic potion. It took me several weeks to realize it wasn’t working and I gave up.
The comments from my schoolmates didn’t stop. I won’t go as far as to say I was bullied because I wasn’t. I was one of the kids who tried entirely too hard to fit in. I had a group of friends who were popular, so I was known solely because of them. That didn’t stop the jokes, though.
I remember going to the pool with one of my lighter friends. She told me that she heard that if you covered yourself in Vaseline, you wouldn't get darker by the sun. So I did it.
Looking back, it’s actually pretty funny. I looked absolutely ridiculous and the logic behind it was equally stupid. You could’ve thrown me into a bucket of flour and fried me like chicken, I was so oily. I made sure to get every nook and cranny. I applied multiple coats on my legs because they always looked darker than the rest of me. I even slathered it on my face.
Needless to say, they laughed at me when I got to the pool. I didn’t sweat it because, hell, I wasn’t going to get darker. It wasn’t until one of the popular girls, who was light skin, took one look at me in disgust and said, “You do know that you’re going to get darker because of that shit… right?”
I left, devastated.
The sad part is, it wasn’t the fact I completely coated myself with Vaseline that made me feel stupid. It was the fact that I was trying to avoid getting darker and failed. I will never forget the disgust on her face and to this day, I still get embarrassed just thinking about it.
As I got older, I started to come into my own. In high school, I got the typical, “You’re pretty for a dark skin girl,” compliments because it's absolutely impossible to compliment someone without mentioning their skin color.
I stopped focusing on the attention others were getting and started focusing on me. Although it still bothered me that the music I listened to praised “red bones” and “yellow asses”, it didn’t have the same effect on me as it did when I was younger.
Once I graduated, it’s like all of my insecurities disappeared. I started to realize that a lot of the pressure to be lighter came from me. Yes, Hollywood loved their light skin women, but I was falling in love with myself and that’s all that mattered.
I started to understand that colorism came from an age-old plantation mentality. It became prevalent in the 18th century during slavery due to the William Lynch speech. The address stated that the secret to dividing slaves was to set them against each other and divide and conquer. The slaves of a lighter shade were deemed “house negroes” and able to do easier tasks in the house with their owners, while the slaves who were darker were “field slaves” and treated worse than their lighter counterparts. This was an attempt to keep them from uniting and rebelling.
What’s terrible is that this mindset originated from a white slave owner and subsequently passed down from generation to generation. There are grandparents, today, who still think like this. Dark skin babies are being born to black parents who also have black parents who shun them, simply because they don’t know any better. Hell, I dare to say that there are parents in this generation who still can’t seem to break the chains of colorism. I’ve had several friends I have had to check for saying they hoped their babies didn’t come out “too dark.” It honestly breaks my heart.
Years later, I find that women with darker skin are now fetishized. I see more brown and dark skin women in the media—Gabrielle Union, Sanaa Lathan, Lupita Nyong’o, and Viola Davis, just to name a few. I don’t really hear light skin women being praised anymore. It seems as though the majority of rappers who are now popular with the younger crowd has just completely given up on black women altogether and moved on to those who are ‘exotic’. If you aren’t an Australian, French, Polynesian, Parakeet mix they aren’t really fooling with you.
Regardless of what anyone says, representation matters. My heart aches for little brown girls who have to grow up thinking they’re not beautiful all because some musty rapper wants to brag about how exotic his imaginary woman is. But I feel reassured when I remember that our last first lady was a dark skin black woman--that women like Janelle Monae and Ryan Destiny are breaking barriers and giving these little girls something to look up to.
While I will say that there is a wave of consciousness that seems to be picking up steam within the black community, we can’t ignore that many of our favorite celebrities are problematic. Just recently Hazel-E, an extremely popular reality star, went on a tirade saying how dark skin women hate on her all because she’s light skin. When I initially saw it I laughed, mainly because Hazel-E has had so much plastic surgery that it’s clear that these imaginary dark skinned women aren’t the only ones who hate her. But I digress. I just hope that the little black girls who watch her show realize that her words hold no merit.
It took me well over 20 years to fall in love with the skin I’m in. It took me just as long to love my curly, frizzy, nappy hair. I’ve gained such a huge appreciation for black skin. I no longer long to create with a man who’ll guarantee me a lighter baby because I’m prepared to raise a beautiful black child, regardless of shade, and tell her she’s beautiful every day. I’ll explain to her that the media does not represent her everyday life and that everything she sees on the TV and hears on the radio isn’t always a representation of her. I’ll explain that she’s a little black girl and she’s magical, solely because of that. I’ll let her know that even if she’s as yellow as the sun or as dark as the night, she should always love her melanin.
My only hope is that she won’t fall into the same pitfalls I did and even if she does, she’ll learn to love herself at the end of it all.